THE MORE WE venture into the world of apprenticeships, the more diverse the readership of our ACDS newsletter becomes. For example, we now attract business leaders who’re interested in how apprenticeships can help their companies, candidates wanting to know more about how they can become apprentices, training providers ready to play their important part in this trend toward jump starting the Arkansas tech workforce, and members of numerous organizations representing discrete segments of our potential apprenticeship talent pool.
These are all independent and important constituencies that, when brought together, can add up to so much more than the sum of their parts. And since it is ACDS’s mission to be the catalyst for unleashing this vital synergy, I thought it would be helpful to talk a bit about how we go about the work of connecting and coordinating all these disparate pieces of the apprenticeship puzzle.
In past columns I’ve focused on the “supply side” of apprenticeships, be that the traditional four-year college grads or those non-traditional candidates who tend not to be appropriately represented in IT. But whoever the apprenticeship candidates are, and wherever we find them, there are organizations out there that have the responsibility of looking out for those individual groups of people. And ACDS is all about the business of creating partnerships with those various organizations.
We work with local workforce boards that represent displaced workers, re-entry program candidates, or non-college-goers who might find themselves unemployed or underemployed. And then there are organizations, such as Winrock International, that reach out to under-served populations—people from rural areas, veterans returning to civilian life, minorities, and women. So ACDS is building a network that will identify these folks and assess their capabilities. But of course all these other organizations are doing a little bit of the same kind of thing: What’s this candidate’s interest? What are his or her strengths and weaknesses? So why do they need ACDS? Well, often they don’t know where the right employers are, or know the particular IT skills a certain employer is seeking. That’s where we come in. We’re the intermediary for these organizations, the hub of the workforce supply-and-demand wheel. We link all the spokes.
On the other end of the process are the state’s employers, who are telling us that we’ve changed their thinking about opening their door to a broader population but that their recruiting processes aren’t yet set up to reach those populations and those candidates effectively. Once again, we’re the hub. It’s our job to understand corporate demand, and not just in general terms; we must have a grasp of the specific skill sets required within various occupations that fall under the IT umbrella. And in matching up that supply with the demand, we can help gauge whether or not a candidate ought to go down one path or another.
It is an intricate process to really understand the difference between what skills and personality traits make for a great developer instead of a great data analyst. We can guide candidates to the best career path for them and their abilities, be it on the hardware side as a network technician, or as someone who works in cybersecurity. These are things that aren’t application specific but are related more to the general cyber environment as a whole.
Ultimately, what we bring to the employer is assurance that they have a partner who understands the specificity of their IT demands, even those that aren’t taught in school, and that we can help lead them to the very tech candidates they need to find.
We also know how to put these candidates into the right training and right apprenticeship model, blending both education and skills training to produce an effective employee long term. Consequently, a big part of our work is finding out who’s best suited to deliver and customize that training, and this could be schools that are already doing curriculum, or vendors who do curriculum, or even startup companies that have found a niche in being able to do that kind of education and training. We’re finding that many training programs are easily customized and are often flexible in terms of schedule.
What we deem “right” is often driven by the needs of the employers—how much time they want those apprentices available for training versus actually being productive in their work environment. Beyond the kinds of training I discussed above, we can’t forget that many educational institutions have long created noncredit bearing adult education courses, and it’s wonderful when such programs meet both the necessary credentialing requirements as well as the requirements of a company from an apprenticeship point of view.
Finally, ACDS understands—and handles—the intricacy of funding for all these services. Where will the money come from? How will it be allocated? At ACDS, we manage that complexity and make it simple for the employer and a nonissue for the candidates, who are ready, willing, and able to go through the training, but don’t want to have to pay anything out of pocket. They’re the ones seeking employment. And yet somebody’s got to take on that heavy burden of paperwork, of making sure who’s going to pay for what and who’s going to do what. This important task has to be managed by an entity that can be trusted, and that isn’t merely voluntary but is, rather, a team of experts for whom this is a full-time job. That is the role of ACDS.